Master of the craft: Vespa mechanic

In the fourth in a photographic series focused on the hands of artisans, we look at the greased and oiled fingers of a Vespa mechanic.

Developed in post-World War II Italy, the inception of the Vespa came from a desire to develop a modern and affordable mode of transport for the people. Their name in Italian means wasp: they were designed to be smaller, cleaner and more reliable than motorcycles. The Vespa quickly became a style icon – a cheap way to zip about in a bombed out Rome, with women able to ride around in skirts and no chic clothing at risk of getting covered in grease. It is in some ways the anti-motorcycle, synonymous with all things Italian, stylish and carefree.

The restoration and maintenance of the old Vespas is an art form. Both cosmetically and mechanically they require the attention of a skilled artisan. Wasp-like in body shape and also perhaps in voice, the mechanic is the vocal coach of any engine – tuning and coercing the pipes and pistons back into their perfect pitch.

The mechanic’s hands are indelibly stained with the oil and grease of his trade. His tools are slick with it too, and the air thick with the heady fumes of petroleum.

This photographic series explores how, no matter the material or how crude the tools, it is skill and time that makes something beautiful. All images courtesy Robin Bernstein.

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